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“And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:36-37)
Jesus uncovers something deep within us when he warns us “… anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”Let’s first establish Jesus is not advocating a literal “Yes” or “No,” but instead a simple, straightforward and to-the-point response. With no blabbering on afterward.
But what is it in us that compels us to say more than a simple, straightforward answer? Insecurity? A need to convince others of our integrity? A need to get our way?
Jesus’ admonition reminds me of my father’s generation. I am sure I never heard my father, or anyone else from his generation ever say, “I swear to God.” Or, “I promise you I’m telling the truth.” And why? There was no need. Their word was their bond, and everyone knew it.
Picture a man or woman in a small town being called as a witness in a trial. They lay their hand on the Bible to swear to tell the truth and the judge stops them. “I know you. There is no need to have you swear to tell the truth. You always do, and everyone knows it.”
Would it be this could always be said about each of us?
So right away we start to see Jesus is addressing our hearts, and perhaps our own perceived lack of integrity. I know in my heart I am not totally trustworthy, so I feel compelled to assure you I am. I am not dishonest; I am human. Do we always tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?
At times we manipulate the “truth” to either cover our shortcomings or to get our way. And now we see the next reason Jesus stated, “…anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” When I shade the truth, or tell what I consider to be white lies, I may be doing so to simply hide my human faults. But I am often doing so to get my way. I know how to arrange my words so as to sway you to my side, or to my way of doing things.
I would never call it manipulating (because that would be from the evil one). But who am I kidding? It is certainly not “Walking in the light.”1
In my early twenties, I worked for the Republican National Committee. They taught us a simple yes-no answer that has stuck with me over these forty years: “When your candidate is accused of some nefarious action, have them reply with one of these three responses, and not word more:
Do you remember Senator Larry Craig, the man arrested for “tapping his foot” in the men’s restroom, as a signal to invite activity with another gay man? His explanation of “having a wide stance” when he sat down was utterly ridiculous. He looked like a fool blabbering on. He would have been much better off employing one of the above three.
If Richard Nixon had employed the second response, the country would have forgiven him and there would be no Watergate scandal. And the same with Bill Clinton, and his silly definition of “is.”
We know when we are going beyond a simple yes or no. Our emotions are kicking in, and our heart rate is pumping up, even if just a little. The next time you hear yourself going beyond a simple, straightforward response, perhaps picture Satan sitting on your shoulder, and remember Jesus’ words, and know exactly where it is coming from.
Next Week: Sam is off next week
11 John 1:7-9